Movie: The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 2

*no spoilers alert!

I finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy in high school. By the time that this last movie hit theaters, I'd forgotten most plot details (and that there was even another movie). But I went to see it with a friend who hadn't read the series or seen the movies, so gave us both a refresher: thank you, Wikipedia.

We reserved seats ahead of time thinking there'd be an evening rush at 8 p.m. on the first Friday after its release. The theater wasn't as packed as we'd prepared for, but it was the first time I enjoyed all the new trailers (nothing too big to be excited about, just another Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper flick).

There's still opportunity of a post-Thanksgiving rush, but this movie performed the worst in the box office of the entire series (which is still impressive in comparison to other movies). But in comparison to Harry Potter and  the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which brought in more than $1 billion worldwide, this movie fell short of in-series and part two expectations.

While I'm referencing it, I'm a Potter fan and I can understand why that last book had to be split in two — that last one was the longest, with approximately 600+ pages. And I spent three whole days with my nose in it. The only reason I can see for Mockingjay to be split in two is for revenue, but it stretched the plot too thin.  I missed three minutes sprinting to and from the restroom, but a majority of the movie was action scenes or waiting for someone to die. I guess this might be representative of the book itself, but I saw it as further evidence that the book did not need to be split.

Unlike the previous movies, there wasn't a breakout scene, quote or gimmick that was ingrained into my brain when I left, save the blatant momentary foreshadowing at the end of the movie ("Mockingjay, may your aim be as true as your heart is pure." on-point delivery by Julianne Moore)

The star-crossed entourage (better than Taylor Swift's) who traveled with Katniss to the capital was decent. Finnick (sigh, favorite) and Annie can't help but remind me of Tonks and Remus (Harry Potter again, #sorrynotsorry) and the entire time, I was rooting for Cressida (SO B.A.) and empathizing with Pollux.  The movie was fun to watch, but come without expectations (try to, if you've seen the previous movies). The big parts of the plot are squished and the action is stretched, but the graphics and cast made it entertaining.

Here's to the end of your breakout series Jennifer Lawrence — may the odds be ever in your favor.


"What's in Your Sandwich?" Infographic

Assignment for Introduction to Media Production Technology (COMM 1114).
Utilize information based off of instructor example.
Created during class using Adobe Illustrator.

My example below: 

Instructor example below: 


Muslim students stand for solidarity

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News.
Published in print edition, front page, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. 
Blacksburg, Va. — Students, faculty and community members sign a banner reading, "We Stand Together," after the event. Photograph by Christian Sterling/Collegiate Times 
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) held a demonstration of solidarity on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. after a threat found on a bathroom wall last Monday.

Approximately 1,000 students, administrators and community members gathered outside War Memorial Chapel on the Drillfield for "Standing in Solidarity: A Gathering Against Hate.”

The event began with Arabic and English recitations of the Quran. MSA President and senior civil engineering major Obaid Khan followed with opening remarks. Devon Lee, a Ph.D. student in Africana studies and advisor for the Virginia Tech NAACP, emphasized diversity, citing past discrimination.

"I really like the emphasis that several speakers, including the president, placed on learning about people with different lived experiences,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs. “Developing true relationship and friendship across different lived experiences is a very tangible way for people to move forward and something that everyone can do — today, tomorrow — to help advance InclusiveVT, which is developing relationships and friendships across difference.”

Preparation for the event began last Thursday. In less than a week, MSA organized an event with full support from the university community, including President Timothy Sands.

"Frankly, I'm not surprised. When we've had challenges to our community, when people in our community feel threatened, Hokies show up,” Sands said. “It's just something that we do; we do it because we have experienced what it means to be a strong community and what we can learn from it, and we know that we need to be there to support each other.”

Students, administration and all attendees shared witness to the strength and dedication of the Hokie community.

"There have been so many times that I've been here that I've seen the Hokie community come together, and it just reinforced the love and resilience that we really are a Hokie family,” said Sharrika Adams, associate dean of students and director of student advocacy.

Blacksburg, Va. — The crowd of more than 700 people strong gathered outside of War Memorial Chapel. Photograph by Christian Sterling/Collegiate Times
Students of all years, majors, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions came together with different interests, but for one reason: as an expression of solidarity and support for Muslim students at Virginia Tech.

“This kind of stuff is what breaks down the community, so we wanted to come out and see how we can help rebuild that sense after it's been tarnished by the graffiti that some idiot decided to put up,” said Ashley Baboota, a senior hotel and hospitality tourism management major.

The event was held on Nov. 10, a day prior to the day specified in the threat. The idea for the gathering was not born as a direct response, but as an opportunity to learn.

“There was a lot of minority groups there as well, but it was nice to see a nice representation of everyone come out and help support, and going forward, being more aware of some of the things they talked about up there just helped put it in perspective, like different people stories, especially hearing people who might not be going to classes tomorrow and how that affects their experience,” Baboota said.

MSA President and Senior Civil Engineering Major Obaid Khan delivered the opening remarks.

“This is just the first step: we're all coming together, we're all showing that differences won't divide us, but they strengthen us and we are one family,” Khan said. “The fact that this is how we all respond is something that really touches my heart and gives me a lot of hope.”

Members of MSA and the University community had confidence and commitment in the continuation of the movement of solidarity and inclusivity.

"I hope that we continue to stay in the conversation, that we continue to stay in community, that we continue to stand together, that we continue to stay in the struggle, knowing that the only way to become as inclusive as we want to be, is to be in community with each other,” said Patty Perillo, vice president for student affairs. "I think it reminds people that community is powerful and that when we come together and stand for an important cause, we can rise above hatred, we can rise above pain, we can rise above threats.”

After the closing remarks by Khan, he asked those in attendance to come together and sign a banner in a demonstration of support for the Muslim community.

"I think it shows that this is a very special place. I have heard from students, I have heard from faculty, I have heard from the administration that there's something special happening here, and I've now been here eight weeks,” said Tracy Vosburgh, senior associate vice president for university relations who joined the Hokie community earlier this year. “You feel it, and when you come to an event like this, you know, this is a pretty special place.”

Both the size and diversity of attendees inspired members of MSA, and provided a sense of safety and security for some, even on their own campus.

“The quick response was really amazing actually, and it was nice to get this amount of response, this amount of people to stand with us and understand how it might feel to get this type of threat and then try to be singled out of a community you've always felt a part of,” said Mehak Khokhar, a senior biology major and member of MSA.

The speakers explained hate as ignorance and encouraged interaction with other people as the solution. "It gives me hope: hope that there is room for change and hope that we can actually come together, not only in times of mourning, but in times of action,” said Fawad Mohammad, a senior civil engineering major and vice president of MSA. “Seeing this and seeing the outcome and seeing the students who came out in the cold, it makes me happy that we are all one nation and one family.”

The crowd was comprised of diverse identities, all members of the Hokie community.

"I think it's really important to be here to show support,” said Sarah Busch, a sophomore civil and environmental engineering major. “We're all Hokies, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race and we need to stand up for what we believe in.”

Not all students who believed in the movement were able to attend. Despite absences, the crowd was sizeable, and stood unified and unbreakable, representing a community with the potential and commitment to change.

"Even though we are the targets, there are other groups out there, people in particular too, that come from different backgrounds,” Khokar said. “I think going forward means that we all stand together, accept our differences and just learn to make this world a better place.”


Campus bathroom graffiti threatens students

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Breaking News. 
Published online on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.

The Virginia Tech Police Department is investigating a graffiti threat in a university bathroom after a Monday, Nov. 2 alert was emailed to students.

The graffiti on a bathroom stall in Price Hall stated, “I will be here 11/11/2015 to kill all muslims (sic).”

 A VT Police email alert was sent at 2:03 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5 titled, “SITUATIONAL AWARENESS — SEEKING ASSISTANCE.”

Police and Detective John Waid of the Investigations Unit are requesting information via phone, online or the LiveSafe app.

"We take any and all such vandalism and threats very, very seriously, and we're working very hard to solve the case,” said Mark Owczarski, vice president for university relations and spokesperson for the University. “If there was ever a moment in which the University felt there was even a remote possibility that you needed to know something for your safety, we would have told you — and we are telling you now.”

Virginia Tech Police declined to comment on this story at this time.

"I was a little scared, but I don't think anything tangible (will come of it), just because it's kind of a cowardly act to write it on a bathroom stall door,” said Rayan Salih, junior biochem major and treasurer of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). “It makes me a little cautious, just because sometimes I do forget that I wear this scarf.”

According to its GobblerConnect page, the MSA has 81 members.

"It was disappointing that there is somebody out there with so much hate that they would write something threatening a huge portion of our campus student population with violence,” said Obaid Khan, senior civil engineering major and president of the MSA. “If it's left unchecked, it will manifest itself in violence.”

VT Police sent reminders for all community members to be aware and cautious and reach out to VT Police, the Dean of Students Office or Hokie Wellness for additional support or care.

“The leaders on campus should really take a stand against this, especially leaders in the University,” Khan said. “Also student leaders should take a stand against this, united in the sense that one segment of our Hokie family here is being threatened with death.”

“I am so sad to hear something like this, especially in Virginia Tech, where we have a huge amount of diversity. We have people from everywhere in the world, from different cultures, different religions, and all of them are here to study and to work, and I am so sorry to hear that someone at Virginia Tech has this feeling towards Muslims,” said Haytham Almarakeby, a graduate student in computer science and treasurer for the Islamic Student Assembly (ISA).

Khan and Fawad Mohammad, vice president of MSA, have started a plan for MSA to stand in solidarity and to clarify what Islam is.

“I think this is based on the lack of knowledge, the lack of communication, the lack of understanding,” Almarakeby said. “I think the proper way to address this challenge, actually, is to increase awareness.”

Virginia Tech stands as one, echoing the strength the community has built over time. “This is a critical moment in which we can all let each other know that yes, we are all different, yes, we have different backgrounds, yes, we might be from different ethnicities, we might follow different religions, but there's one uniting factor: the fact that we are not only all Hokies but the fact that we are all humans,” Khan said.

Both MSA and ISA are working to increase knowledge and clear misconceptions about Islam for students across campus.

“Something I really, really, really want to emphasize is that if you have questions, please, please ask,” Salih said. “This is one person, and this one person doesn't speak for the entire community. My three years at Virginia Tech have been amazing.”

Students can call Detective John Waid at 540-231-6790 or VT Police at 540-231-6411 with tips.


Virginia Tech logo

Into assignment for Introduction to Media Production Technology (COMM 1114).
Recreate the Virginia Tech logo, 3D extra credit.
Created using Adobe Illustrator.


Student biker hit by car at crosswalk

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Breaking News.
Not on assignment; spot reporting.
Published in print edition on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2015.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  The two-lane two-way crosswalk on Prices Fork Road between from the academic side of campus and The Edge apartments deals with heavy pedestrian and street traffic during rush hours and between classes. Photograph by Lauren Pak
A student driver hit a student biking across a crosswalk on Monday, Nov. 2, at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Prices Fork Road. The cyclist, Tyler Thompson, a junior computer science major, did not sustain serious injuries at the scene and declined medical attention.

Thompson was following pedestrians across the crosswalk from campus towards The Edge Apartment Homes when his bike was hit by a car in the right lane driving towards the intersection.

“I go this way every day; every single day,” Thompson said. “I ride bikes on the trails, on the road, and this is the first time I got hit. She totally didn’t see me at all.”

Thompson was thrown over the handlebars of the bike and landed on his shoulder but was unsure if he hit the car or the ground. Thompson estimated the incident will cost a total of $700 in replacements, $600 for the bike and $100 for the jacket.

“I wait every time until the light’s blinking, and they say to wait until the lights are blinking at the crosswalk, so I wait,” Thompson said. “I saw the first person stop, and it was like, ‘Well, the first person stopped, so surely the next person’s going to stop in the next lane, but I guess they didn’t see me or whatever, so I don’t know.”

BLACKSBURG, Va.  Tyler Thompson stands in front of his damaged bike in a parking lot where he and the driver pulled over to have a conversation. Photograph by Lauren Pak/Collegiate Times
Students had been walking in front of and behind Thompson when he was hit. He agreed that a pedestrian walking next to his bike would have likely been hit. Moving forward, Thompson does not plan to take extra caution.

“I’m really not hurt too bad,” Thompson said. “It really is supposed to be somewhere people can cross safely and not have to worry about getting hit. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, so I don’t see why I should change what I was doing in a safe place.”

This is the second recorded bike accident this year after the death of Mark Slough, fueling concern over safety. According to the Code of Virginia, bikers at crosswalks have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians. Virginia Tech Police encourages bikers to dismount at crosswalks. “Stuff happens, so I’m not going to get all mad at her or whatever,” Thompson said. “But stuff happens; it’s just like everyday life. It’s a Monday, right?”

The Virginia Tech student who was driving declined to comment at the scene, and Blacksburg Police was unavailable for comment.


Highway 55 diner to open mid-November

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles. 
Published on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  The Highway 55 sign is lit during closed hours, as construction and finishing touches inside are paused for the night. Photograph by Ben Weidlich/Collegiate Times
Highway 55, a North Carolina-based 50s diner chain specializing in burgers, shakes and fries, will open in Blacksburg on Monday, Nov. 16.

The restaurant, located near the Math Emporium, is undergoing its final touches.

"Virginia Tech had a lot to do with it,” Don Downard, president of Highway 55 said. “Virginia Tech, we know, is a good school. My brother went to school there and so does my niece, but we didn't expect to have such highly qualified people applying for these positions.”

Fifties music will set the atmosphere with vintage movie posters and Elvis records decorating the walls.

The chain has more than 50 restaurants concentrated in the southern United States and three international restaurants in Denmark and the United Arab Emirates. Blacksburg is one of the two in Virginia. The other is located in Virginia Beach.

“It's a really, really good community,” Downard said. “We felt like it was a place that not just people traveling through would want to eat; it's a place where the local population would want to eat and not feel like they have to eat the same thing every time they come in.”

The menu features burgers, wings, sandwiches and desserts, including their signature custard, which is made into concretes and floats. Other highlights include the pimento cheeseburger and the John Boy & Billy chicken sandwich.

"Highway 55 has what I believe is probably the best custard you'll have anywhere,” Downard said. “I always equated custard with soft serve ice cream, but I've learned from Highway 55 that real custard is actually better than ice cream because it has a higher cream content.”

If a customer can complete the Five-Five Challenge, by finishing a 55 oz. burger with at least four toppings, fries and a 24 oz. drink in less than 30 minutes, the meal is free.

"It's a big, sloppy mess that you don't want to eat in the car,” Downard said. "They have competitions in North Carolina where professionals come in to do this, and a woman actually owns the title, and she's not even a big woman. She did the whole thing in less than three minutes."

The diner will host a contest to win a free burger every week for a year upon opening (details unconfirmed). Loyalty cards, eligible for all purchases of at least $4.99, can amount to a custard or a full meal.

"One of my goals as the human resources person is to work around students' schedules because school is more important,” said Lynda Downard, the director of operations and wife of Don Downard. “I know some businesses can't do that, but we are certainly going to do our very best to work around students' schedules so that they have the opportunity to learn and work from that, but at the same time, they really are here for school."

Downard is optimistic but plans for future challenges, specifically holidays when a majority of students leave Blacksburg. The restaurant hopes to become involved with student organizations at Tech as well as the on-campus community.


Accident outside of Hunters Ridge Apartments

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Breaking News.
Not on assignment; spot reporting.
Published online on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.  

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Campus Automotive arrived at the scene to clean glass, metal and broken car parts off the road and sidewalk before towing both cars. Photograph by Lauren Pak/Collegiate Times
Three Virginia Tech students were involved in a two car collision at the corner of Seneca Drive and Patrick Henry Drive at approximately 7:20 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30.

Blacksburg Rescue took the driver and passenger from the turning car to the hospital. No one sustained serious injuries at the scene.

One car turned left onto Seneca Drive, colliding with a car driving straight on Patrick Henry Drive. The accident occurred in front of Hunters Ridge Apartments and Collegiate Suites Apartments.

Turning vehicles do not have right of way and are required to yield to cars driving straight.

The front bumper of both cars were damaged and towed by Campus Automotive. Two Blacksburg Police officers directed the minor traffic congestion coming out of Hunters Ridge and Pheasant Run at the four-way intersection.

The two student drivers declined to be identified or comment at this time. Officers on the scene declined to comment at this time.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Two students were riding in the car that was turning; both went to the hospital to recieve medical attention. Photograph by Lauren Pak/Collegiate Times


How to make grilled cheese and chicken Noodle Soup

This semester, I'm enrolled in Introduction to Media Production Technology (COMM 1114). Our assignment was to create a how-to video that met specific requirements.

Filmed by me (featuring my partner).
Editing by my partner. 
Voiceover written and recorded in collaboration.


Unconfirmed email scam circulates through vt.edu email addresses

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published online on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015.

On Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 9:31 p.m., an email similar to other university phishing scams was sent to undisclosed vt.edu email addresses from a udel.edu email address.

The email asked users to click a link to renew their email accounts. The email read: “Your account will been suspended in the nest three hours you can not send or receive until you renew your vt.edu mail account follow the link and fill the information to renew your mail box (sic).”

Sent from an unconfirmed University of Delaware email address, the body of the email included a hyperlink and was followed by a URL, beginning with it-vt-help-desk but ending in “jimdo.com," which is unaffiliated with Virginia Tech or the University of Delaware. The email was signed by “Thanks IT Help desk.”

Students at other universities were advised to avoid clicking the hyperlink or typed link or further circulating the email. This possible spear phishing scam has been confirmed at other universities including the University of Delaware and the University of Chicago, with students receiving similar emails with customized site links hosted by jimdo.com, a free website provider. Virginia Tech Police has not yet issued a crime alert and declined to comment on this story at this time.

Tech's self-driving car makes first public road test

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published in print edition, front page, Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. 

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19 and Tuesday, Oct. 20, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) held the first road demonstrations for two automated and connected cars.

Photo courtesy of Logan Wallace
The two Cadillac SRXs were tested on 10 miles of the Interstate 95 expresslane and Interstate 395 HOV lane in Fairfax County, Virginia and did not disrupt traffic. The cars have previously only been driven on the Smart Road in Blacksburg, Va., comprised of 2.2 miles of controlled-access track.

“[The demonstration] went great; we’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” said Mindy Buchanan-King, research communication director at VTTI. “They really saw live and firsthand that this is what we can do.”

Automated and connected technologies can communicate with other vehicles, but automated does not require driver input, sensing and responding to surrounding vehicles automatically.

Both the Google self-driving car and VTTI’s automated vehicle rank level three “limited self-driving automation,” according to the USDOT. Level three of four qualifications include ability to cede full control, certain conditions requiring driver intervention.

Virginia law requires a driver behind the wheel: Zach Doerzaph, director at the Center for Advanced Automotive Research, drove the connected vehicle, and Luke Neurautor, group leader, drove the automated vehicle.

"I think what VTTI is doing really places Virginia at the forefront of automated vehicles for a couple of reasons,” said Catherine McGhee, associate director for safety, operations and traffic engineering for VDOT’s research division. “One, is that it's an outstanding organization with a great group of researchers doing really important work.”

Virginia Automated Corridors (VAC), a partnership between VTTI, VDOT, VDMV, Transurban, which operates the expresslane, and HERE, Nokia’s mapping system, conducted the demonstration. The VAC is comprised of more than 70 miles of interstates and arterials in northern Virginia, including the tested roads and smartroad.

"I think it went wonderfully,” McGhee said. “I think it brought a lot of attention to the work we're doing in Virginia, and it really emphasized the point that we are encouraging the private sector to come here and to work on developing these technologies and applications that will lead to enhanced mobility.”

The cars performed successfully in all six scenarios, including an active work zone and a police and emergency vehicle on the shoulder, an emergency vehicle coming from behind, lane drift with a blind spot warning, emergency brake light and forward collision warning and a response to an un-interpretable event (i.e. crash scene).

Photo courtesy of Logan Wallace
Sen. Mark Warner and Greg Winfree, assistant secretary for research and technology at USDOT spoke Monday. Representing Virginia was Charles Kilpatrick, commissioner for VDOT, Richard Holcomb, commissioner for VDMV and Karen Jackson, secretary of technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Dingus spoke Tuesday.

Timothy Sands, Virginia Tech president, and Tom Dingus, director for VTTI, represented Virginia Tech.

Progress continues with caution and uncertainty: legislators and researchers acknowledge not everyone wants to be a backseat driver.

“The United States has always had a love affair with their cars, and so I wonder, sometimes, whether we'll ever see 100 percent market penetration of automated vehicles, just because there are people who enjoy the task of driving,” McGhee said. "Without a doubt, the increase of driver-assisted technology in vehicles is where we're headed; I have no doubts about that at all.”

According to the USDOT, connected vehicle safety has potential to address 81 percent of all-vehicle target crashes, 83 percent of all light-vehicle target crashes and 72 percent of all heavy-truck target crashes annually.

"Our engineers are always thinking, they always want to try something new,” Buchanan-King said. “It certainly wasn't a matter of, 'Oh, we're done, now we can take a break.' If anything, it was 'We're done, we have such great interest that this isn't going to stop.'”

Official VTTI design on connected vehicles began in 2013 and on automated vehicles in 2014.

"I'm really glad to be a part of VTTI and really glad to work with a really good talent of engineers,” said Jean Paul Talledo Vilela, the embedded hardware team leader at the Center for Technology Development at VTTI. “We love what we do and we also put passion in it, so we always try to make our development the best.”

With more than a decade of experience in automated vehicles, VTTI has worked with state and federal government and vehicle manufacturers and suppliers for development and testing. VTTI is focused on research and understanding human-machine interaction.

"I'm always fascinated about what tangible work we really do,” Buchanan-King said. “You know you've done well, everybody on the team did a good job, but you don't really see the results in some instance, but working at VTTI, you see tangible results.”

Safety is the main goal, with additional benefits including improved mobility for teen and elderly drivers and reduction of negative environmental impacts and traffic congestion.

"There are still a lot of outstanding questions in terms of how this all becomes operational and what it means to the insurance industry and what it means to an agency like VDOT that manages traffic and how liability issues are addressed,” McGhee said. “I think it was a really good demonstration of the potential of this technology.”

Since 2001, VTTI has paid out of pocket more than $30 million in overall connected-vehicle research and development.

VTTI is working to improve motors, working to prevent lane drift and quicken manual disabling of automatic control. A goal is to increase the car to a level four “self-driving automation.”

"We have a tremendous group of engineers and researchers at VTTI, and without them, none of this would really be possible,” Buchanan-King said. “They've worked countless hours night and day to make the demo a success.”

The demonstration, its success and reception symbolize a step towards the future.

"To be honest, we were nervous,” Talledo Vilela said. “To make the car more autonomous, we need to put more sensors and also more logic and more control systems running in the car to allow us to reach that goal — I’m not saying it's impossible, but it can take us all some time to get there.”


Lia's Hair Salon: Raising awareness for breast cancer

Lia's Hair Styling on Main Street in downtown Blacksburg, Va. donated a portion of proceeds to Relay for Life every time someone dyed a part of his or her hair pink, raising awareness for and supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This package, created for both VTTV and the Collegiate Times, featured Collegiate Times editors and salon employees.

A majority of B-roll was filmed by me. Produced with co-reporter and editor.

Here is the final package.

The package was also featured as a part of Tech Tonight of VTTV.


Students for Sensible Drug Policy seek safeguards for intoxicated students

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published in print edition, front page, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at Virginia Tech is leading an effort to bring medical amnesty to campus, providing protection for students who need medical attention.

SSDP is an international grassroots network that neither condones nor condemns drug usage. The movement for medical amnesty goes by different names, such as the Good Samaritan Law and the 911 Lifeline, but the idea is to grant intoxicated minors legal immunity when seeking medical attention.

"We really want to encourage people to call medical services if they're experiencing some kind of overdose-related emergency, right?” said Kyle Gentle, a fifth-year senior and industrial and systems engineering major and president of SSDP. “We don't want them to have to try to decide between potentially saving someone else's life or seriously messing up their own.”

According to an April 2015 national survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 60 percent of college students between 18 and 22 years old reported drinking alcohol in the past month, with almost 40 percent reporting binge drinking in the past 30 days. An estimated 1,825 college students between 18 and 24 years old die each year from alcohol-related injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

“The bottom line is that if it comes between the choice of possible death, which is the worst case scenario, and maybe possibly having to avoid legal repercussion or consequences from the school, people should be on the safer side,” said Joey Puletti, a junior economic management major and research chair. “I think the safest balance we can find is letting people be comfortable with the fact that they can ask for help.”

SSDP is in early stages of organizing the effort, collecting information and deciding a course of action, with the first aiming to clarify language in the Hokie Handbook on “Self-Reporting and Bystander Intervention.” Virginia Tech expects students to be aware of personal safety and safety of others and to take immediate action in potentially dangerous situations.

“When determining the appropriate response in the conduct process, the Student Conduct office will consider actions taken by any student who seeks assistance on their own behalf or the behalf of another Hokie experiencing a medical emergency related to alcohol or drugs,” stated the Hokie Handbook. “In some cases disciplinary sanctions may be reduced or not imposed.”

All incidents are documented and educational and parental notifications may still be required. The University recognizes the misuse of alcohol and discourages irresponsible or illegal use.

According to the a 2010 survey by the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center, 77 percent of Virginia Tech students consume alcohol, with 10 percent of students consuming 46 percent of the alcohol.

"Looking at it from the school's standpoint, I think they do want kids to be safe, but with so much vagueness, I think they're trying to keep their options open in terms of what you can do with students,” Puletti said. “I think they do want to keep kids safer, but at the same time, they want to have some sort of consequential control, trying to keep kids from doing this, which I understand because if you come at it from the point of view that there would be no consequences, I could see how kids would almost take advantage of that situation.”

SSDP wants to clarify language about disciplinary action and policies for the 2016-2016 edition of the Hokie Handbook, making safety a priority over consequence.

"What we're sort of hoping to clarify is, in what cases are students protected when they're calling emergency services and in what cases are they not?" Gentle said.

An example of the policy’s implementation is the Good Samaritan Protocol at Cornell University, created in 2002. Attempting to reduce legal barriers, it eliminates judicial consequences for students and others involved in seeking assistance but does not preclude disciplinary action of additional violations, such as sexual violence or property damage.

"Like if someone is driving drunk and they crash into a tree and then they call to say, 'Oh, I've had too much to drink,' I don't think that's a good case where that person should be exempt from any sort of consequences for their actions,” Gentle said. “I think it's still important that students have a sense of personal responsibility for what they're doing, whether or not they're under the influence of alcohol or another type of intoxicant. In those types of cases, we don't want to say it's okay to whatever you've done because you called 911."

According to the July 2006 International Journal of Drug Policy by Cornell, this caused an increase of on-campus alcohol related calls with a decreased percent of calls requiring emergency room visits.

"With regards to alcohol, they're trying to encourage students more to contact medical authorities, rather than being scared about doing that because a lot of times students don't want to do that because they're afraid they're going to get in trouble, so they'll wait and wait and wait to the point where it's too late, and someone gets hurt or worse,” said Chris Artigue, a senior horticulture major and secretary and Student Government Association representative for SSDP.

Current Virginia law provides affirmative defense to the reporter of the incident, given they follow a set of instructions, including remaining at the original and other locations, identifying him or herself and “substantially cooperates in any investigation of criminal offense.”

"I think at the heart of it, this is really a human rights issue,” Artigue said. “We think, as an organization, the policies that have been set in place now do a lot more harm to society than good.” Because of this, the group aims to clarify both state law and university policy so that students have a clear understanding of their rights and protections.

"People are going to party anyway, and it just makes the whole entire school so much safer knowing that you can call for help if you think someone's in danger, without worrying about getting in trouble over something,” said Ashley Charles, a senior marketing major and president of Young Americans for Liberty. “You can worry about whether it's right or wrong after you deal with the fact that the person was overdosing on something and people shouldn't be afraid to seek help.”

SSDP acknowledges a step in the right direction, but sees room for improvement.

“We all see the problem and we know that there's something that we, as students, can do to fix it, so if we recognize that, we're going to do everything we can,” Gentle said. "It comes down to protecting students and encouraging people to do the right thing.”

While SSDP is not working to completely eliminate all consequences, their goal of harm reduction and awareness aims to make medical attention a response, not a choice.

“This is something you can get behind; it's not about politics: it's about safety,” Charles said. “You're not a criminal for wanting to get your friend help, so you shouldn't be treated like one.”

James Hawdon, director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention and faculty advisor of SSDP, declined to comment.


Seven students elected to undergraduate honor system

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published online on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.

Seven students have been elected to the undergraduate honor system for the 2015-2016 academic year to uphold the honor code and academic reputation of Virginia Tech.

The student-led system advocates and educates students accused of violations, including common ones such as plagiarism, assistance and projects with multiple assignment submissions. Appointments were finalized after recommendations were given to the review board on July 1, and the seven students began officially at the start of the fall semester.

This year’s honor system is led by Chief Justice Antonia Myers-Burton, a senior triple-majoring in psychology, sociology and criminology and associate chief justice Ian Van Pelt, a senior double-majoring in microbiology and biological sciences and philosophy.

The five associate justices are Ryan Cabayan, a senior double-majoring in international studies and public relations; Caroline Eckstrom, a junior double-majoring in biology and agricultural and applied economics; Chanel Franklin, a senior mathematics major; Camille Peeples, a junior human nutrition, foods and exercise major; and Gerald Pydeski, a senior animal and poultry sciences major.

"I'm very excited because I worked pretty hard to get this position, and I'm glad to finally be in it,” Pydeski said. “The people I'm working with are really good at what they do and I've learned a lot from them, and we work really well as a team.”

Pydeski, one of five associate justices, is responsible for investigating violation reports and conducting judicial panel hearings. Current associate justices must have already served on the panel, which is responsible for hearing evidence and determining the verdict.

"I fell in love with the ability to serve and to develop this culture of academic integrity because it's so important on our campus,” Myers-Burton said. “I love being that go-to person and getting to see more of the campus, because I get to sit on these government committees, which I wouldn't have seen in other positions.”

As chief justice, Myers-Burton has an oversight role over the process and policy, working closely with James Orr, the director of the undergraduate honor system.

"We want people to know that the students who come to Virginia Tech learn the material, and they have the skill set their degree implies that they have, and that the institution is committed to developing men and women of integrity who are going to be able to go out into society and have a positive impact on the world,” Orr said.

The honor system works as both a judicial body for academic violations and as an educational resource for students, to prevent confusion and promote a culture of academic integrity and honesty.

"We're actually here to help you; we're not here to punish you,” Pydeski said. “We're educational, and we believe in second chances."

Students who have committed a violation, accidental or otherwise, are encouraged to learn from mistakes. Unlike other universities, Virginia Tech does not have a one-strike policy but still rarely encounters repeat offenders.

"A lot of students come in concerned about being suspended or expelled or something like that, but you know, we're not U.Va. — we don't kick people out for making a mistake. We recognize that students do make mistakes,” Van Pelt said. “It's not like we're putting anybody on trial; that's not really the point. It's more of a fact-finding body than anything else.”

The honor system advises students to read syllabi, seek clarification from professors and to reach out to their office if further clarification is needed. The roles of justices extend beyond their jobs, challenging them to embody their academic values and mission in their classes and daily lives.

“Think about it as you're preserving the worth of your degree,” Eckstrom said. “It means creating a culture where academic misconduct is the exception and not the institution.”

Maintaining one of the oldest university honor codes first established in 1907, Virginia Tech continues to uphold high standards for all students and preserve the honesty of its degrees.

“Going through the process of being a panel member really made me feel like I had a way that I could give back to the Virginia Tech community, like 'Ut Prosim,' 'that I may serve,' and it really allowed me to discover more things about myself at the same time,” Eckstrom said. “I really found that, through advocating for students and helping them through the process, it was a really rewarding experience because I got to see firsthand that, even though a student has a small mistake, they can kind of come back from it and become constructive members of our university.”

An educational opportunity for both justices and other students, the honor system serves to understand and advise all students involved while continuing to strengthen the core of the academic reputation and culture of Virginia Tech.


$3.3 million, five-year study on youth football looks to revolutionize the industry

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published in print edition, front page, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015.

The College of Engineering and the athletics department are collaborating on a $3.3 million, five-year study on head impacts in youth football.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  A Virignia Tech football helmet on the field inside of Lane Stadium. All helmets worn by players have been rated five stars. Photograph by Christian Sterling/Collegiate Times
Stefan Duma is a professor and head of biomedical engineering and biomechanics at the Center for Injury Biomechanics (CIB), an interdisciplinary research center between the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is also a member of the medical advisory committee at Pop Warner, a youth athletic league. Since 2003, Duma has been researching this field, revolutionizing football for players of all ages.

"The game is somewhat under attack right now because of its safety, and I think it's very important for us. Instead of just saying it's not safe, let's prove that it is safe," said Associate Athletics Director of Sports Medicine Mike Goforth, who has worked with Duma since 2001. "Sports make up a very small percentage of the concussions that happen across this country, but we would like to eliminate that or at least lower it. You're never going to eliminate it: kids get hurt on skateboards, they get hurt getting to their locker, they get hurt in all sorts of ways, but we would like to look at it from a sport standpoint to make sure we're doing everything we can to make this game safer."

Funded by the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health, this study is the largest and most extensive analysis done on youth football players and will specifically focus on 7- to 13-year-olds.

"It is really rewarding because I was a youth football player myself," said Jake Smith, a first-year graduate student. "I really enjoy playing the game, and I know a lot of kids really enjoy playing the game. I understand the fear the parents have, but hopefully by making the game safer, it will give parents a peace of mind."

Five Virginia Tech biomedical engineering doctorate students are working on the study, including Smith, Megan Bland, Eamon Campolettano, Jaclyn Press and David Sproule. Steve Rowson, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is involved in the study and has worked with Duma for the past 10 years. The research team will continue to work closely with the athletic department at Virginia Tech.

"In the past five years, we have really gotten into sports-player equipment and player performance," Duma said. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that Virginia Tech is an excellent environment for this type of research. It's a very unique environment to have all of these groups working together, and that's why we're able to do it and have the success that we have."

Other contributing universities are the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Brown University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They will focus on data analysis of local youth football teams, conducting tests and collecting findings, including the fact that most big impacts occur during practices.

"Sports in America is important," Duma said. "One of the critical things here – and this is not just about football – we really need to better understand head injury risk in all of our sports."

In 2003, Virginia Tech was the first school to equip football helmets with non-accelerometers and has tracked more than 300,000 impacts on its team.

"The fact that I've got parents and kids all the time who talk about this sport and I don't want to lie to them," Goforth said. "I want to be upfront and honest, and this research gives me the opportunity to say that I think it's still a safe game, so it gives me peace of mind both for my kids and for the kids that I work with."

In 2011, Duma developed a helmet star ratings scale, making the system the first of its kind with widespread application as an industry standard, for college, professional and youth football teams. One focus of the study is to optimize helmet safety for children's use.

"The helmet of an 80-year-old doesn't need to look like the helmet of a 22-year-old that a Tech player wears," Duma said. "We need to figure out what is the best way for the kids to play football and the best protection for them possible."

The football helmet ratings STAR evaluation system has been in place since 2011 and is based on pre-determined thresholds such as lowered head acceleration and frequency of impact. Helmet improvements are wide-ranging, influencing other sports and technologies, specifically with head impact sensors and for hockey, bicycle, construction and lacrosse helmets.

"I think (the helmets) have improved quite dramatically," Duma said. "We've shown that if you move from a one-star helmet to a five-star helmet, you reduce your concussion by 50 percent, so you cut it in half. We think that is a pretty dramatic reduction."

Currently, Virginia Tech football players are all equipped with five-star Riddell helmets, including the Speed, Speedflex and 360. Sensors are installed in all helmets to measure every hit, keep track of impacts and alert coaches when medical attention is needed. Helmets track data through wireless alerts sent to sideline antennas that measure linear and rotational acceleration.

"What we always try to emphasize is that no helmet is concussion-proof," Duma said. "What these helmets do is lower risk, but you still have to work with the players and the coaches to make sure that the game is played as safe as possible."

In addition to defining industry standards for helmets, Virginia Tech research has also tightened practice regulations for all levels of play, outdating potentially dangerous drills and limiting opportunities for impact.

"It means the world to us to think that we've got a chance to make this game safer for folks, like my own kids," Goforth said. "To see changes out there across our country that's happening with football and know that it all started right here in certain aspects of the things we're doing here at Virginia Tech – that means the world to us."

Duma's research prompted Pop Warner to change its rules regarding practice and concussion prevention in 2012. Currently, the injury rate in Pop Warner football is less than one-third in high school, less than one-fifth in college and less than one-ninth in professional.

"Sporting activities are an important part of the American culture and something that is certainly going to continue," Duma said. "We need to figure out a way to play all of these sports as safely as possible."

In 2014, there were 123 concussions in the NFL, with a consistent decrease over the years. According to a study by the 730 Football Championship Subdivision, for every diagnosed concussion, there were six suspected concussions that went undiagnosed.

"The most exciting part is how it touches so many people's lives," Smith said. "I've been very interested in the sport since a young age, so it is really cool to be in a study that I am passionate about."

Though concussions and injuries are not completely avoidable despite the star rating, research is progressing and strives to prevent lasting impacts and raise awareness by educating coaches, players and parents.

"Being an athletic trainer, you get involved because you love competition, you love sports and you love medicine," said Brett Griesemer, director of sports medicine. "Any way that you can kind of help not only medicine but help the game of football or sports in general become safer, both of those go hand in hand. Having a real hand in that process is special."

With more than a decade of research, Virginia Tech's team continues to be the sole leader in the industry. Findings and applications transcend beyond football and sports, making not only players safer but also active people of all ages.

"Will it help make it safer and hopefully protect some of the kids? Absolutely, there's no doubt about that," Goforth said. "Will it help save the game? I think it will."


Class of 2017 to reveal ring design

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.
Published in print edition, page 2, on Tuesday, Oct. 6. 2015.

The ring premiere for the 2017 graduating class is on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. in Burruss Hall. The hour-long event is free of charge and is open to students of all classes and the university community. Free t-shirt vouchers will be given out to attendees for pickup in Squires after the event. The reveal will be followed by two firings of Skipper, the Corps of Cadets cannon, and fireworks on the Drillfield.

"It's a really special opportunity for our class to come together as one, and it only happens two times, at ring premiere and ring dance," said Cal Wontrop, ring dance chair. "We all get to come together as a class and celebrate ourselves and also the time and hard work we've put in at Tech so far and it's a unique opportunity to hear and see what the ring is all about."

Each ring has a university side and then a class side, which contains symbolic elements of important events during the years spent at Tech by the class of 2017, including the 35-21 win versus Ohio State football on Sept. 7, 2014, a popular hiking destination and a unique part of Lane Stadium. From left to the right, the ring shows a transition from old into new tradition.

Every collection includes symbolic elements, including a screaming eagle for strength and freedom, an American flag and campus buildings for national and university heritage, and an interlocking chain around the bezel for the strength of many united as one.

“Our class motto is 'transcend with tradition,' so we're trying to get every single one of our members of the class of 2017 to engulf themselves in the traditions here at Tech,” said Thomas Arruda, the ring design committee chair. “We want them to just kind of take part in everything they can take part in while here, so they can carry that with them after graduation and into whatever they do after college.”

Cranberry, navy and silver are the class colors. Raymond D. Smoot, Jr., of the class of 1969, is the former CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation and the namesake for the class ring, along with Dean Robert T. Sumichrast of the Pamplin College of Business, who is the class sponsor.

The ring design committee is comprised of eight class of 2017 students selected during sophomore year.

“The class of 2017 ring has some awesome elements on it that every student can relate to and reflect on, based upon our experience,” said Pat Finn, president of the class of 2017. “Ten, 20, 30 years down the road, looking at the cool design of the ring, we’ll be able to remember our awesome time that we had here at Virginia Tech, and it will forever cement the Hokie legacy.”

Since the 1911-1912 academic year, Virginia Tech continues to be one of the few universities that creates a new design every year.

“Ring premiere is one of the best nights that you can experience, especially when you're a junior and it's your time to see your class ring,” Arruda said. “I encourage everyone to buy a class ring – it's something you can look back on and remember the times that you had at Virginia Tech and the experiences you got to share with all your friends and all the memories that you made as well.”

The class of 2017 ring design committee inside of Moss Arts Center. Top row: Daniel Mun, Vince Lawton, Cal Wontrop, ring dance chair, Pat Finn. Bottom row: Chris Willging, Becky Oswalt, Jack Crockett, Thomas Arruda.
Photo courtesy of Niki Khandelwal
The class of 2017 officers at the Pylons. Top row: Pat Finn, president, Vince Lawton, male member-at-large, Jack Crockett, cadet member-at-large, Pat Dupont, treasurer. Bottom row: Allison Crandell, vice president, Becky Oswalt, female member-at-large, Maddie Walters, secretary, Niki Khandelwal, historian.
Photo courtesy of Niki Khandelwal
The class of 2017 official logo, featuring the two class colors of cranberry, navy and silver, was unveiled this year.
The 2017 ring collection will be available to view in the Squires Williamsburg Room for purchase Nov. 16-18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Rings will be delivered from March 29 to April 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The junior class ring dance will be on Friday, April 1 from 8 p.m. to midnight and on Saturday, April 2 from 8 p.m. to midnight inside of Squires Old Dominion Ballroom.


Multimedia Reporting Blog/Site

I created a blog site for my Multimedia Reporting class (COMM 3154), featuring multimedia reporting stories, original photography, blog posts and more.
Note: assignments and blog posts are formatted and done within specific instructions.

This is a current work in progress that will continue until the end of the fall 2015 semester in December.

To visit, feel free to visit my original site.


VTRally prepares for its first race after years of building

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published in print edition, front page, on Tuesday, Sept. 29. 2015.

VT Rally is a team of 25 Virginia Tech senior mechanical engineers designing and building an off-road race car from scratch for a senior capstone project. They will be racing their car in the Method Race Wheels Laughlin Desert Classic in Laughlin, Nevada, from May 5-8, 2016.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — VTRally's car sits inside the WARE Lab, the team's on-campus workshop. Sam Paras, the team's co-captain, works on a computer. Photo by Zack Wajsgras/Collegiate Times
The idea began in 2013, and the vehicle will debut on the racetrack for the first time in the spring. John B. Ferris, Ph.D., the director of the vehicle terrain performance laboratory of Virginia Tech, is overseeing the team as the academic advisor. Alec Jones and Sam Paras, both mechanical engineering majors, are co-captains of the team.

“You have classes all day, sitting in a classroom, listening to professors, staring at a computer, and then, at the end of the day, you get to go and hang out with a bunch of relaxed people that are fun to be around, and you get to get your hands dirty a little bit and mess around with the car,” said Tess Robinson, who is part of the engine and drivetrain sub-team. “It completely relieves all the stress and makes you feel better.”

VTRally is comprised of three sub-teams: chassis and suspension, engine and drivetrain, and controls and electrical, in addition to a marketing team. The small size of the VTRally team allows for easy collaboration and familiarity.

“It’s only in its third year, so being a part of something that's new and trying to match the quality of the build of the other teams is something that we want to do, but also staying true to our values,” said Jonathan Alabran, a member of the controls and electrical sub-team. "It's really cool to be able to go to the western half of the country where there's probably people out there who have no idea what Virginia Tech is, so I think it's really cool to be able to go out there and share a part of Virginia Tech.”

The car has expanded significantly since its inception and exists as a two-seater vehicle with an estimated completion weight of 2,500 pounds. Most of the car remains unfinished, with many parts that still need to be completed and improved.

"There's a fair amount of engineering work to be done, but the project is already in its final stages,” Alabran said. “We created a prototype, so what we're doing now is improving issues. I think we have a really good outlook as far as our timeline; it's very realistic and it's very accomplishable.”

The team hopes to finish the car by the end of the fall semester, leaving the spring for final adjustments and test drives. Many students on the team have experience with vehicles and all share a passion for cars. One student will be chosen among them next semester to drive the car during the race.

"It's the best learning experience: getting hands-on experience,” Robinson said. “It teaches me way more than any class could, and I feel like our team has so many experienced people that really know what they're doing and they're also very passionate, and it's just people that are very easy to learn from.”

 Currently, the team is optimizing suspension and frame designs and is working to integrate headlights, taillights, engine mapping capabilities, GPS tracking and real-time telemetry on digital displays. The team also began working with SOLIDWORKS last week, a 3-D CAD design software. Fueled by donations and sponsorships, last year’s team collected more than $100,000 as well and received physical car parts, including a 2.0-liter EcoBoost motor from a Ford Focus ST with a Weddle Transaxle and suspension level of 20 inches.

"If it gets done and we race it, we can show everyone else that we're such a young team but we managed to get this car done and race it. Hopefully more people will join the team next year and it'll just continue to grow and be one of those Ware Lab projects that goes on for years,” said Eric Rauchenberger, a member of the chassis and suspension sub-team. “I feel like this team is really committed and everyone seems like they're really interested in the project as a whole, and no one's just doing it for a grade.”

This year’s team continues to be active in pursuing sponsors daily, with a goal of $74,000 for this year to cover safety equipment, travel and competition expenses, manufactured components, tools and shop equipment, and raw materials.

"It's going to be a lot of work this year, it's going to be a lot of time spent, probably more than if we would've chosen other projects, but I think it's also going to be so rewarding that I don't think the time's ever going to bother us,” Robinson said. "We're just going to be really proud that we're just a small team from Virginia Tech that is racing in a huge race that's actually televised: people can watch this.”

Ashley Anderson, a senior public relations major and member of the marketing sub-team, describes the team as being both hardworking and fun.

"Every time I'm in the Ware Lab, there's somebody in there working hard, making sure they're staying on schedule for making all the changes that they have to,” Anderson said. “They're really dedicated, and I would love to see them go and race and get out there and test what they've been building.”

The team emphasized their welcoming of volunteers and curious students while preparing for busier workloads ahead as the semester progresses.

“We're all a great group of engineers and we love teaching people about vehicles,” Rauchenberger said. “If anyone is interested in coming by and just looking at the car, there's always someone in the Ware Lab working on it, just because we're all inspired by what this university has to offer, and we're all thankful we're able to do a project like this.”

The race, called “Duel in the Desert,” is hosted by Canidae Tap It, and while it is targeted to amateur drivers, it will feature many competitive teams and professionals. The goal for this year’s team will be getting the car to the track and completing the race successfully.

“Even right now, I can see that it's a huge stress relief, and it's something that's fun to go do,” Robinson said. “Even though it's going to take a lot of time away from doing homework and things like that, it's going to be completely worth it: to be able to say, 'We built this car, we made it run, we're the reason that we're here.'”

National Coffee Day arrives in time for Blacksburg fall

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.
Published in print edition, front page, on Tuesday, Sept. 29. 2015.

The first official day of fall was last week, which means it is now acceptable (kind of) to order pumpkin-flavored everything. Tuesday, Sept. 29 is national coffee day, and rainy weather is forecasted for Blacksburg all week long, making this the perfect time to explore coffee shops and cafes around town.

Photo by Ben Weidlich/Collegiate Times
Beginning with on-campus options, Virginia Tech students can use their dining plans at Deet’s Place. Seasonal and classic favorites include their pumpkin pie latte, pumpkin pie chai and the Swanson special, which was a student original, mixing hot chocolate, the Deet’s house blend Hokie coffee, steamed milk, whipped cream and sugar.

Deet’s place offers six regularly-rotated flavors and seasonal flavors like gingerbread and peppermint for the holiday season. Imported from Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, Africa and more, all beans are roasted in-house behind the counter at Deet’s and distributed throughout campus, including to Dietrick Hall and West End.

"We have to watch what temperature and change the gas levels and change how the air flows through the roaster in order to get the best roast,” said Kaitlin McKenna, a junior hospitality and tourism major and the general student manager at Deet’s. “A lot of places, like a Starbucks, would not roast their own coffee; they'd roast it elsewhere and get it sent to the stores themselves, but we roast it in-house.”

McKenna also explains a common misconception in that darker coffee does not necessarily have more caffeine. One of Deet’s current specials is the single-origin elephant bean, the “maragogipe,” which McKenna explained as a mutant bean originating in Brazil. Its taste is unique but hasn’t reached a consensus, inviting coffee enthusiasts in to visit Deet’s for a cup.

Bollo’s Bakery and Café in downtown Blacksburg also features daily specials and will start evening specials from 6 to 8 p.m., offering a free house mug of coffee or tea with the chosen pastry of the month. October’s pastry of the month is pie.

"The thing that makes us unique is that we're locally owned and operated downtown,” said Barbara Wright, the pastry manager. “Our coffee is always fresh, and we have a lot of fair trade and organic coffee.”

In addition to local roasters, like Red Rooster, and state roasters, like Honduras Coffee, Bollo’s also receives coffee from more distant roasters, like Equal Exchange. Bollo’s offers favorites like pumpkin lattes, espresso drinks and mochas, and it also boasts strong coffee and freshness: the cafe receives coffee shipments multiple times per week.

Idego coffee shop, a third-wave coffee shop, also strives for a strong taste, so inherent flavors of coffee are evident. Paul DeArras, the owner, specializes in fully-developed lighter roasts. Their beans are picked 10 to 14 months prior to ensure freshness and rotated seasonally.

"You still get the taste of the coffee with lighter roasts,” DeArras said. “I have a coffee right now that's super ripe-black, cherry-tobacco, and you get to taste that without it being a sour or weird cup of coffee."

A unique trait of Idego coffee, in addition to its source of beans, is that the cafe handcrafts all of its flavorings and almond milk. The pumpkin spice flavoring contains real pumpkin.

DeArras explains that another misconception with lighter roasts is that they are not sour if they are fully developed. This past summer, DeArras and his family packed up and went on a two-week road trip around the country, stopping in coffee landmarks including New York City and Los Angeles. After returning, DeArras applied what he’d learned to his own coffee shop and found that he preferred Idego’s own mocha.

"We really want to focus what we do so that what we do is at a high level. Instead of doing a bunch of things okay, we do a few things very well,” he said. "There's a lot of good coffee out there, and we wanted to recalibrate some of the things we're doing based on that."

Back on-campus but not yet available through the FLEX portion of Hokie passports, EspressOasis is a chain coffee shop with more than 12 locations in hospitals and universities. The cafe ensures its freshness by brewing espressos two weeks prior to arrival and throwing them out after three weeks.

Offering more than 40 flavors, from lemon to white chocolate to banana, EspressOasis is able to create more than 200 variations and rotate its flavors seasonally. Some of its fall drink specials include a pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin spice mocha, harvest chai, banana bread latte, toffee nut mocha and blended cider lattes.

Customer favorites include the mocha Milano, which is a mix of chocolate, hazelnut and caramel, and the “Walter White” and “Frank Underwood,” which are nicknames for a blackberry mocha and a redeye Irish crème, respectively.

"I think it's a great community that coffee provides for us,” said Jennifer Barber, a senior biology and animal poultry sciences major and the general manager at EspressOasis. “I would definitely consider myself a coffee enthusiast, not only for the coffee but for the community it brings."

Barber usually opens the shop in the mornings and looks forward to the smell of coffee to start her day.

“I love that I can provide that to people and that everyone is always happy to see me, and I can provide something that's such a necessity for the setting I'm in, for college,” Barber said. “So many people come up to me in desperation like, 'I need caffeine,' and I'm like, 'You're at the right place.'"

But no matter the weather or time of day, National Coffee Day is an excuse for coffee aficionados and newcomers alike to celebrate their love of their choice (safe and legal) drug by indulging – in liberal doses, of course.

"I'm a big coffee addict,” McKenna said. “I like that it's bitter, but it can also be sweet with a little sugar in it. It's just a comforting drink. Whenever you have coffee, you feel at home.”


Catholic students make pilgrimage for historic Pope visit

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as News. 
Published in print edition, page 3, on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. 

The World Meeting of Families is an international conference that brings together families every three years and will be held in Philadelphia from Sept. 22 to 25.

The pilgrimage tradition began in Rome in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and typically coincides with a papal visit, with previous destinations including Milan, Rio de Janeiro and Manila.

This year, the Newman Community of Virginia Tech, an on-campus Catholic ministry, will be making a pilgrimage to the event to see Pope Francis, who will be present as a part of his first visit to the United States.

“Once we found out about that, we knew we had to go,” said Lindsey Neimo, a Newman intern and graduate student majoring in nonprofit management. “The whole purpose of the Newman community is to bring people closer to Christ and have that experience, and nothing is going to be better than this experience this weekend.”

Neimo and other members of the Newman staff, including Father David Sharland, the Chaplain and director of campus ministry, and Irene Saul, the director of development, have overcome various logistical challenges.

Three Coach buses will depart at noon Friday, carrying 160 students to an empty convent, where they will stay packed in until Sunday night.

“We have friends who work in food sciences, so this morning, we hard-boiled 450 eggs in their broilers and we have them cooling in their cooler system so we can bring them with us,” Neimo said. “We're hoping to hit where we're staying by 7:30 or 8 p.m., where we will be greeted by 60 pizzas. We'll dive into those and everybody settle in and do some prayer and really just get our heads centered around the awesomeness of the weekend but also the craziness of it.”

On Saturday, the group will walk to the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, attend mass by their own Father David and visit cathedrals in town. The festival where Pope Francis will speak will begin at 4 p.m., followed by aconcert with performers such as Mark Wahlberg, Aretha Franklin and The Fray.

“The thought of me being in the same place as the vicar of Christ is unheard of. It's something that I can't imagine. I can't believe I've been blessed with such an opportunity, and I'm so excited to encounter it,” said Daniel Mehr, a senior industrial and systems engineering major and member of the Newman community. "I am so excited — could not be more pumped.”

Dressed in matching t-shirts with rosary in hand, the group will stand outside Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in anticipation of seeing Pope Francis pass by. Then they will attend mass celebrated by the Pope on Sunday at 4 p.m. outside the Philadelphia Art Museum, where they will be close enough to receive the Eucharist.

“We're gonna have to walk a lot and we're not going to shower, but if everybody smells bad, it's fine,” said Kate Burke, a junior economics and computational modeling and data analytics major and member of Newman. “I'm excited that everybody's excited. Especially the way Pope Francis is approaching certain things, it just sheds a lot of light on how kind and loving the Catholic Church truly is, which is something I think a lot of people overlook.

“I think that Pope Francis in general is just a good reminder to always care for your neighbor, to care for the lowly ones, for anyone who needs help, even if it may not be readily obvious that they need help or you may not want to help them," Burke said.

Burke has seen the Pope once before during the procession of Corpus Christi in Rome two summers ago. But for a majority, it will be their first time.

"An opportunity to see him come here is like a pilgrimage; it's a part of your spiritual journey. It's not just, 'Oh, we're going to see a famous person,’ you're seeing somebody who leads your church and leads your church closer to God,” said Christian Williams, a senior psychology major and member of Newman. “Going there and seeing 1 or 2 million Catholics in Philadelphia shows the universal church and shows how big the Catholic Church is in the world.”

Students embarking on the pilgrimage are predominantly Catholic and are of all years, including graduate students. The trip fee is $50 for students, including food and lodging and is a result of donor support, grants, sponsorships and fundraising. Some students attending had Friday night exams rescheduled for 7 a.m. Monday, after an estimated return time of 3 a.m.

“We have 160 college-age students who are willing to take three days out of their life to go see the Pope,” said Daniel Mehr, a senior industrial and systems engineering major and member of Newman. “I think it's just such a beautiful opportunity that God has blessed us with, and I'm so excited to experience it.”

Through logistical challenges and last-minute swaps and sign-ups, the Newman staff and community are optimistic, with continuous echoes of excitement.

"I think, for me, this is going to be the most powerful experience for us as a Newman community,” Neimo said. “The world is changing because it doesn't matter if you're Catholic or Jewish or no religion at all – he's shaking up the world. There's something about him that people want to know more about: we want to know his faith, we want to know how he loves so well.”

The three-day trip will be an opportunity to strengthen faith and build fellowship for Catholic students on campus, members of the community and other attendees.

“Not only being close to the Pope, who's the head of the Catholic church, but being around millions of people who are going to be there for the same reason – it's all worth it,” Neimo said. “We have overcome it with a lot of jokes and a lot of laughter and covered ourselves in peanut butter, trying to make sandwiches.”

Armed with hundreds of packed lunches, sleeping bags and open minds and hearts, the community hopes to grow closer in both their faith and with each other, anticipating great stories that will last a lifetime.

“The fact that I'm going to see him hasn't hit yet. I think it's beautiful that the Newman community was blessed with such an opportunity,” Mehr said. “God provides.”